With the AFC North title on the line, Antonio Brown reached the ball across the end zone with 0:09 remaining on the game clock, giving the Pittsburgh Steelers a 31-27 victory over rival Baltimore Ravens in what was THE game of the season.
The win clinches the division championship for the Steelers (10-5). It's the third straight playoff appearance for Mike Tomlin's team. They've clinched the No. 3 seed regardless of what happens in Week 17 because of a strength-of-schedule tiebreaker over the Texans.
Here is what you need to know from the latest epic edition of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry:
1. With the season teetering in the balance, the Steelers' big-time players made big-time plays. Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger powered Pittsburgh's 4th quarter comeback. The Steelers trailed by 10 points early in the final stanza after Big Ben's second interception led to a Baltimore field goal. Back-to-back Bell touchdowns wiped out the deficit. After the Steelers defense allowed Joe Flacco to drive the Ravens on a 14-play, 75-yard TD drive to retake the lead, Pittsburgh answered again. Big Ben guided a flawless 10-play drive in 1:09 minutes. Roethlisberger went 8-of-8 on the final drive (plus two spikes). With 0:14 remaining on the clock, he hit Brown just short of the end zone. The Steelers stud receiver would not be denied the end zone, sealing the win.
2. Bell powered the Steelers' offense all game. The most patient running back in the NFL found creases in a stout Ravens run defense. When he sees a hole, Bell's ability to shift right into third gear is unparalleled. Bell toted 20 times for 122 yards, a TD and added two catches and a receiving score.
Brown saw just one target for seven yards in the first half. In the second half, he was targeted 10 times, finishing with 96 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Without Jimmy Smith, the Ravens had no answer for Brown in one-on-one matchups. John Harbaugh's defense will lament losing AB on crossers in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger looked lethargic early, throwing for 60 yards in the first half. On the first play of the second half, he threw a terrible pass that was intercepted and tossed another pick deep in his own territory later in the third quarter. The quarterback's immaculate fourth quarter made up for the struggles. Big Ben finished 24-of-33 passing for 279 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs.
3. The Ravens' defense deserves credit for keeping the Steelers playmakers in check for long stretches. After an easy first drive for Pittsburgh, C.J. Mosley & Co. held Bell to 28 combined rushing yards the next three drives of the first half. Linebackers Zach Orr and Mosley each made great plays on interceptions. Eric Weddle was all over the field, per usual. A lack of a pass rush ultimately did in Baltimore as they couldn't get Big Ben off his spot in the fourth quarter.
4. With a potent offensive trio in Bell, Brown and Big Ben, the Steelers pose the biggest threat to the New England Patriots in the AFC tournament. With quarterback questions for several of the other conference powers (including Raiders QB Derek Carr's injury), a healthy Steelers and Patriots squads are clear favorites.
5. The Ravens' offense was more balanced in the second half than it's been all season. Kenneth Dixon keyed several long Baltimore drives, converting third downs with powering runs. Joe Flacco was more accurate in the dink-and-dunk offense, but the Ravens never threatened deep, getting most of its chunk plays thanks to poor angles and missed tackles by Steelers defenders. Failures in the red zone will haunt Baltimore, which converted on just two of five trips. Baltimore settling for a field goal following Roethlisberger's second INT helped key the Steelers' comeback. Harbaugh has been vocally frustrated with the offense's reliance on the pass this season. It wouldn't be a surprise if he rethought the entire operation in the offseason.
6. Don't retire on us, Steve Smith Sr. The 37-year-old receiver showed no signs of age, burning the Steelers' secondary for 79 yards and a score on seven receptions. Not one Pittsburgh defender could bring down the stiff-arming mad man. When Smith is on a roll, he's one of the best players to watch in the NFL.
7. The Steelers' defense missed a ton of tackles that allowed the Ravens to sustain drives (three scoring drives of 12-plus plays). Safety Mike Mitchell was plowed over by Baltimore fullback Kyle Juszczyk on what could have been the game-winning score if it weren't for Big Ben's heroics. Pittsburgh bent but didn't break in the red zone. Sean Davis' PBU on third down to force a 23-yard field goal looks huge in hindsight. With more potent offenses to face in January, Mike Tomlin's group will have to show Sunday was an aberration and they are closer to the team that allowed 14.0 points per game the previous five contests.